Mariah, Lucy’s employer, represents both Lucy’s past and her present. Though Mariah, an affluent North American white woman, is very different from Lucy’s mother, Lucy comes to view her as a mother figure who to some extent embodies the best and worst of her mother. Like Lucy’s mother, Mariah tries to mold Lucy in her own image, imposing her views on everything from daffodils to women to her Great Lakes home, but she also shares the warmth and tenderness that Lucy’s mother exhibited during Lucy’s childhood. In response, Lucy displays a similar ambivalence towards Mariah as she does toward her own mother, wavering between deep affection, pity, and resentment. The ways in which Mariah differs from Lucy’s mother also shed light on Lucy’s past. When Lucy appreciates Mariah’s good humor and tolerance, she exposes the lack of such traits in her mother. Despite her rage toward her mother, however, she also betrays her admiration for her when she derides Mariah for lacking the strength her mother would show in dealing with Lewis.
Mariah epitomizes traits of the new world to which Lucy has fled. Her wealth and privilege initially strike Lucy as the keys to happiness, though Lucy often disdains the naïve arrogance that accompanies Mariah’s good fortune. Mariah’s liberal attitude toward her children impresses Lucy, who hopes to emulate Mariah when she has her own family. Yet as Lucy learns that Mariah’s advantages fail to protect her from the unhappiness of a bad marriage, Mariah’s way of life loses its charm, and Lucy comes to understand the universality of human dissatisfaction and suffering, a knowledge that both matures and embitters her. Mariah, for her part, shows her imperious side once Lucy decides to leave her behind, which calls her generous and egalitarian impulses into question and underscores the ultimate distinctions between Lucy and herself. Though Mariah aids in Lucy’s journey to independence, Lucy must break with her in order to truly pursue her freedom.